Campers grin and bear it |

Campers grin and bear it

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN The U.S. Forest Service considered restricting or even closing Difficult Campground after a bear demolished a family’s gear trailer and pick-up topper to get at food last week.While Aspen’s flagship campground has been regularly visited by one or more bears this summer, the agency concluded drastic action wasn’t warranted yet, said Mike Kenealy, who oversees campgrounds for the White River National Forest supervisor’s office.”We get bears almost annually. They’ve been there a number of years,” Kenealy said.The agency decided after investigating the incident to beef up efforts to warn campers to stow all food and trash securely rather than restrict the campground. One option under consideration was closing camp spots to tents and soft-sided campers. That move was made in 2005 in response to bear activity.Kenealy said a bear apparently thought a trailer filled with gear that was pulled behind a pickup was a Dumpster, since they look similar. It bashed the trailer and may have overturned it, but wasn’t able to get inside. The bear turned its attention to the back of the pickup, where food was stored. It figured out how to get through the flip-up door of the topper.No one was injured in the incident. Nevertheless, the Forest Service is on heightened sensitivity to bear activity in its campgrounds. The agency was criticized in June when a black bear pulled an 11-year-old boy from a tent 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City in a secluded Utah campground. The bear killed the boy.The bear attacked a different person at the campground earlier that day, but it didn’t result in serious injuries. The campground wasn’t closed and reports indicated no warning signs were posted. The victim’s family said they agency should have taken more definitive action to prevent the later tragedy.The Aspen Ranger District consulted local officials with the Colorado Division of Wildlife on how to respond to the bear activity at Difficult Campground, which is about four miles east of Aspen. Aspen District Wildlife Manager Kevin Wright said he advised them to close the campground. That area is prime bear habitat, he said.Wildlife officers have been overwhelmed by reports of human encounters with bears this summer. Wright said it is because of a lack of natural sources of food. Berry and acorns crops are poor because of the dry conditions and a late frost. Bears are seeking alternatives and finding them in Dumpsters and unsecured houses in Aspen.”Aspen is obliging them,” Wright said.The Forest Service decided to try further education rather than close Difficult because it is “so important to campers,” Kenealy said. The campground has 47 campsites and is heavily used from May through September. It has bear-proof garbage containers and bear-proof food containers, so the tools are there to prevent bears from finding alternative food sources. The campground is managed by a concessionaire called Thousand Trails.Kenealy said some campers don’t take the time to open the Dumpsters and instead leave garbage outside the bins. He also noted on a visit there Wednesday that the bear-proof food containers weren’t marked, so campers might not know to utilize them.More signs are needed, both advertising the availability of food containers and stressing the need for proper trash handling, he said.It’s difficult to educate all campers because most people only stay a day or so. “There are new people there every day,” Kenealy said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is